Conclusion

What we like What we don't
  • Excellent resolution, dynamic range and high ISO performance
  • Lovely JPEG color
  • Superb build quality and weather-sealing
  • Excellent through the finder AF tracking
  • Good face detect reliability in live view and through the finder
  • Reliable live view eye detect
  • Deep buffer when shooting bursts
  • Beautiful oversampled UHD 4K video
  • 10-bit Log footage to external recorder
  • Video and stills settings can be 'sandboxed' from one another
  • Minimal rolling shutter when shooting 4K video with DX crop
  • Usable silent shutter mode
  • Easy to use, mostly reliable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity
  • Microphone and headphone ports
  • Responsive tilting touchscreen
  • USB charging
  • Excellent battery life
  • Live view subject tracking not reliable and cumbersome to engage
  • No AF joystick or touchpad option
  • Through the finder AF coverage feels limited
  • Different AF-area modes in live view vs through the finder
  • Camera's highest 12fps burst rate hampered by significant rolling shutter
  • Default JPEG noise reduction can be a tad aggressive
  • Some noticeable shutter shock at slower speeds with longer focal lengths
  • No built-in flash
  • In-body stabilization would be beneficial, particularly for video shooting

Overall conclusion

The Nikon D780 is a very good camera, all around. Image quality from its full-frame 24MP sensor is class-leading: Raw files offer excellent dynamic range, great noise performance and plenty of detail. JPEG color is also outstanding, though noise reduction can be a little aggressive (this can be turned down).

On the video side, the D780 is also quite compelling. The quality of its 4K footage is excellent and nearly class-leading. And the suite of video tools and features is truly impressive. Unlike its predecessor, the D750, the D780 has on-sensor phase detect points and offers outstanding video autofocus with face detection. While there's no in-body stabilization here, the camera's electronic video stabilization is effective for hand-held shooting though it comes with a 1.1x crop.

Raw converted in ACR.
ISO 100 | 1/320 sec | F5.6 | Nikon 50mm F1.8 D
Photo: Dan Bracaglia

The build and design of the D780 are also excellent. The camera is both solid and comfortable in-hand and has comprehensive weather-sealing. The body looks almost identical to its predecessor's but there are some small, important changes that may matter to you. Namely, Nikon has de-coupled the AF-On and AE-L/AF-L buttons: good! And removed the pop-up flash: bad! It's also removed the contacts for a double grip: bad! But hey, the camera has a super responsive touchscreen, USB-charging and will still play nice with older Nikon lenses thanks to an AF pin and AI ring at the mount. That said, failing to give this camera a proper AF joystick is a missed opportunity. But I suppose the D-pad is good enough.

Nikon has effectively combined the best bits of both their DSLR and mirrorless cameras into one body, modernizing one of the brand's all-star lines and likely making it competitive for many years

Performance-wise, the D780 is also quite attractive. When shooting through the finder, the top burst speed is 7 fps: not crazy fast, but fast enough for most users (12 fps in live view with the e-shutter, albeit with rolling shutter that makes it less suitable for fast action). And more importantly, the buffer depth is deep at 100 frames. And as long as you have a fast-enough card and you're shooting Raws or JPEGs (not both), the burst won't even slow down. That's a full 14 seconds of continuous shooting. To put that into perspective, an American football running-back can sprint the length of a field and score a touchdown (100 yards / 91.4 meters) in about 12 seconds. So if you were shooting it you'd have enough buffer to document the whole run and even some of the celebration after.

Raw converted in ACR.
ISO 25600 | 1/640 sec | F2.8 | Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 E @ 100mm
Photo: Dan Bracaglia

Autofocus performance is also by and large, excellent. The camera uses two different AF systems, one borrowed from the D750 for through the finder shooting and one from the Z6 for live view shooting. The former offers comparably less AF points and coverage, but more reliable AF tracking, while the latter has better coverage, but tracking is inconsistent. That said both have reliable face detect, but only live view offers face with eye detect.

As a whole, the D780 feels like a proper update to a long-beloved line of cameras. Those looking to complain that the pixel count and traditional AF system are unchanged are missing the point. Its predecessor, the D750 is still an excellent DSLR with a very reliable AF system, competitive Raw files and good build quality. But it's starting to feel ancient in other regards, specifically its live view experience and video output/feature set. By cross-breeding the D750 with the Z6, Nikon has effectively combined the best bits of both their DSLR and mirrorless cameras into one body, modernizing one of the brand's all-star lines and likely making it competitive for many years. For accomplishing this, the D780 receives our silver award.


What we think


Richard Butler
Senior Editor
The D780 adds eye-detection and video features to the apparently do-it-all D750. However the differing behaviors in viewfinder and live view modes mean switching between two ways of working to get that full capability. The smaller, less expensive, image stabilized Z6 promises compatibility both with past and future lenses, which makes it more appealing to me, since I don't regularly shoot action.

Rishi Sanyal
Science Editor
The D780 is Nikon’s attempt to perfect the consumer DSLR, and it’s largely succeeded. Stills and video are top notch, and AF performance in both modes is rock-solid, while the classic ergonomics are hard to argue with. Compare it broadly to its peers though, and I can’t help but feel that mirrorless competitors offering IBIS, autofocus accuracy without cumbersome workarounds like AF Fine Tune, and no risk of shutter-induced shake just offer more headache-free shooting.

Compared to its peers

Compared to the Nikon D750, the D780 has a lot to offer, but most of its advantages relate to live view, video performance, JPEG quality and connectivity. If those things matter to you, the D780 is a clear choice over the D750. But if you're a stills shooter who mostly works in Raw, the D780 offers you very little over the D750: both sensors have the same resolution and similar Raw performance.

Compared to the Nikon Z6, the D780 is likely the better option for stills shooters. It offers faster burst shooting with a deeper buffer, multiple cards slots, better viewfinder AF tracking and better battery life. You're also less likely to see banding in the deep shadows of the D780's Raw files. But the Z6 does offer in-body image stabilization, so if you're a video shooter, it's likely the better option. Likewise, if you prefer an EVF or a smaller-sized package, the Z6 is likely better for you.

The Sony a7 III is perhaps the D780's most compelling challenger. Both offer excellent Raw image quality and impressive 4K video output. But each has slightly different strengths that balance out its comparable weaknesses, making it hard to pick a true winner. For example, we prefer the D780's body, menus, battery life and vast catalog of reasonably-priced glass. But we also appreciate the a7 III's more consistent autofocus experience and performance, in-body IS and AF joystick. So let's simplify things: Do you prefer an optical or electronic finder? If the latter go with Sony, if you prefer the former, pick the Nikon.


Scoring

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category. Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Nikon D780
Category: Mid Range Full Frame Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Nikon D780 is a fabulous all-around stills and video camera for folks who prefer the DSLR-format. It's well-built, comfortable to shoot with and highly customizable. Autofocus performance is, for the most part, excellent. But inconsistencies between live view autofocus and through the finder autofocus may cause some confusion. Still, battery life is great and a dedicated smartphone app offers good connectivity.
Good for
Stills and video shooters looking for a DSLR-style camera that can do it all.
Not so good for
Anyone requiring in-body image stabilization or folks seeking a small/light package.
87%
Overall score